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(Archived Article)

Huskies for Opportunities in Prison Education (H.O.P.E.)

Dec 13, 2013
Dashni Amin
Dashni Amin, '15

Dashni Amin (Junior, Law, Societies, and Justice)

“In Your Name: Education Inside Prison” is an Honors seminar that met weekly this past summer at the Twin Rivers Unit, a medium security facility at the Monroe Correctional Complex, a state prison less than an hour from the UW campus. The class was made up of UW Honors students and inmates at Twin Rivers who together explored the ways in which post-secondary education might play a significant role in helping individuals in the prison system make a successful and productive return to society.

Every student in the class spoke passionately in support of opportunities for education, which are very limited in prison. Washington state law prohibits the use of state funds for post-secondary education for prisoners and, because there is no Internet access in prison, the vast world of online classes is unavailable. The 20 students in the seminar engaged in discussions of such complex questions as: “What is the worth of higher education? What is its purpose? Who should pay for it? What should it include?” These are reasonable questions for any university student to ponder, but the questions took on particular significance when debated on-site in the real life setting of a prison.

Along with learning about the different legal and financial barriers to prison education, UW students stepped inside a world that is usually only understood indirectly through books and second-hand knowledge. We were able to speak to correctional officers and educational staff at the prison. We also visited prison classrooms and heard from counselors and social workers.

“Too many times,” wrote Emma Shepanek (junior, anthropology), “I learn about places I will never visit, people I will never meet, and topics I will never encounter. The ability to engage with the populations and experience the environment we were studying was incredible.” Interacting with incarcerated students allowed UW Honors students to see the impact education had on their fellow classmates’ lives. Many times students heard that education was the inmates’ only way to feel free for a couple of hours.

As Dana Ayoob (junior, psychology) reflected in her writing assignment, “the Honors Program has a great way of harvesting students to search for greater importance to their classes....[It] taught me how to learn in a very open-minded and intentional way.”

At the end of the quarter, there was no great consensus about how to solve all the issues and students had no single, grand answer. We did come away with a learned focus on the need for more educational opportunities for people in prison and a desire to continue the conversation. Knowing that education decreases the likelihood of people returning to prison, the UW Honors students from the seminar created Huskies for Opportunities in Prison Education (H.O.P.E.), a new registered student organization (RSO) on campus. The students hope to build a bridge between University of Washington students and incarcerated students through understanding similarities and developing opportunities to learn from one another. One of H.O.P.E’s first projects was to organize a textbook and supplies drive during autumn quarter; we plan to donate the materials to the prison library before winter break.

In final reflections, many of the students wrote about the impact of the class on their future.

Andy Nguyen’s (sophomore, prescience) reflection emphasizes the courage he gained through the process of relearning how to communicate with his peers: “I’ve been used to taking such courses with huge lecture halls that I felt like I forgot how to communicate with classmates. I was so institutionalized and was used to just coming to class and just listening. Honors 230A allowed for me to voice my opinion among peers...Because of this class, I’m proud to say that I’m an advocate for post-secondary education for inmates. Because of this class, I’m able to join an RSO that I will be passionate about. Because of this class, our sustainable projects will have priceless outcomes for current and future inmates.”

Join Huskies for Opportunities in Prison Education (H.O.P.E.) weekly on Tuesdays at 4:30 in the Allen Research Commons.